Advice from a Maverick

Congratulations to Nancy Van Doren and Barbara Kanninen on their election to Arlington School Board. I also want to thank those who supported my recent campaign for School Board. I got 33 percent of the vote or more than 18,000 votes, which is respectable, considering that my opponent was endorsed by both the Democratic Party and the Washington Post. By contrast I ran as a maverick on a fraction of my opponent’s budget, garnering no party or newspaper endorsements at all. Yet it is clear that my ideas about good government are gaining traction in this county.

Arlington Public Schools’ (APS) 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) includes $126 million for a secondary school and $50.25 million for an ES. In stating its opposition to placing the ES at the site of TJ MS, the Save TJ Park coalition said:

“Arlington Heights neighborhood is willing to expand existing schools in the neighborhood. We support appropriately designed additions at Patrick Henry Elementary School and TJ Middle School. We are also open to converting the Career Center into a new high school if it is done right.”

I agree with this assessment on the grounds of practicality, environmental sustainability and cost. APS determined that since there is greater need for an elementary school in South Arlington, and TJ is in South Arlington, an ES must go there. But inasmuch as both elementary and middle schools are needed throughout the county and since TJ is centrally located off Route 50 and Glebe Road, it makes more sense to extend the existing MS as part of a project to renovate the building. This would ease the demand for secondary school seats, while reducing the environmental footprint on the TJ site.

APS refuses to consider this option on the questionable assumption that building new costs less than renovations/additions. As the TJ Working Group pointed out, however, APS staff’s cost assessments do not include the cost of structured parking, which would accompany the construction of a new school. I challenge APS staff’s cost assumptions as counter-intuitive and in general I believe that APS should provide more classroom seats by constructing additions to existing elementary and secondary schools rather than building new, whenever feasible. I also advocate building up not out with modular design.

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